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January 15, 2009 at 10:16 AM

Pressbox view of best/worst AL ballparks

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A frequent reader and commenter, Faceplant, wrote in the other day to talk about taking a tour of Angel Stadium and its pressbox. He wanted to know how I felt it compared to Safeco Field and other places. It gave me an idea: to rank the ballparks I most frequent based strictly on working conditions. We all have fantasized about taking in a game at Fenway Park in Boston. But what’s it like to have to work there? Top have to visit it repeatedly and get a job done? Most of you will never get to experience that. But I have. I’ve spent a decade working the ballparks of the American League. So, I’ve developed a ratings system, based on the five criteria I feel are the most important towards a good work experience at a ballpark. Each criterium is worth up to five points, with five being the highest. So, the best a ballpark can score is 25. It’s totally subjective and I’m sure my fellow writers and some PR staff will disagree with me on a few things. But that’s OK. This is one man’s opinion. But it’s a more informed opinion than you’ll get from someone who’s never worked covering a baseball team. So, here are the criteria:
1. Stadium proximity/access
2. Food
3. Interview space in visitors’ clubhouse
4. Working conditions in pressbox/view
5. Postgame access to clubhouse from pressbox
And now, lets start with my rankings, from worst to first:
14. THE COLISEUM (Oakland) — 7 points
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1. Stadium proximity/access 1
2. Food 1
3. Interview space in visitors’ clubhouse 2
4. Working conditions in pressbox/view 1
5. Postgame access to clubhouse from pressbox 3

This one too…

This place is God’s revenge on baseball writers. There is a rapid transit system that gets you here from San Francisco or downtown Oakland, but then you face a quarter-mile walk (sometimes with luggage) to the pressbox entrance.
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Cabs? Hah! Not worth the time or money invested. Getting one after the game is impossible because of remote location.Try catching a plane on a tight schedule from here and you could have a heart attack on a hot day. That’s if you don’t get food poisoning first from the media “dining” room. The pressbox “view” is obstructed from some seats with a low-hanging ceiling in others that can cause neck strain getting into them. The wireless hookup is a joke. Only saving grace is an elevator that gets you within 30 feet of the clubhouses, but is extremely slow. Overall, it’s a dingy, gloomy ballpark in a concrete wasteland part of town with little to get enthused about. The good news is, plans for a new ballpark are underway. The bad news? They’ve been planning one for years now without putting shovels to dirt.
13. FENWAY PARK (Boston) — 11 points
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1. Stadium proximity/access 3
2. Food 5
3. Interview space in visitors’ clubhouse 1
4. Working conditions in pressbox/view 1
5. Postgame access to clubhouse from pressbox 1

I love going atop the Green Monster and taking videos. Love looking at the Green Monster from the field. But all that atmosphere gets lost in a pressbox where the quarters are cramped and the windows often have to stay closed because it’s either too hot or too cold.
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The box is also too high up and the views are sometimes obstructed. Everyone trips over each other in the clubhouse. Just getting there postgame is an adventure where you have to fight “upstream” like a bunch of salmon against a tide of thousands of fans moving in the opposite direction to exit the ballpark.
Yes, I’ve seen real live rats here. The animal kind, not the human, despite the behavior of some fans after too much alcohol. Only saving grace is a great media dining room, which offers a daily menu in addition to cooking up burgers, hot dogs and pizza as an alternative. The dessert spread is the best in the game and you can keep going back for more once the game begins. They have a snack counter throughout the gane and usually put out a doughnut spread in the latter innings.
12. YANKEE STADIUM (New York) — 11 points
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1. Stadium proximity/access 1
2. Food 4
3. Interview space in visitors’ clubhouse 2
4. Working conditions in pressbox/view 2
5. Postgame access to clubhouse from pressbox 2

The House That Ruth Built is now closed and I won’t miss a lot of its features. To start with, it’s in the South Bronx, so you have to take a subway to get here and then wait for one well after dark or pay a “gypsy cap” (unlicensed town car drivers) an extortionate rate to get back to Midtown Manhattan.
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Pressbox quarters are very cramped and it’s a hike through some post-game crowds, then an elevator ride, then another hike to get to the small clubhouse. Stadium employees, outside those working the media dining room, tend to be rather rude and unpleasant. The security staff are the worst, acting as if they’re on the front lines of the War on Terror. One saving grace is a downstairs media work room, next to an excellent dining room which has a mainstay salad bar, carving area (roast beef/ham/turkey) and dessert bar in addition to a daily menu.


11. U.S. CELLULAR FIELD (Chicago) — 12 points
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1. Stadium proximity/access 1
2. Food 2
3. Interview space in visitors’ clubhouse 3
4. Working conditions in pressbox/view 3
5. Postgame access to clubhouse from pressbox 2
It’s on the South Side of Chicago, so unless you’re Leroy Brown, you get here and leave on a train, sharing space with gang-bangers and other less savory types at all hours of the night.
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Sometimes, you can find a cab. Other times, you don’t. The food is nothing to crow about and it’s a hike to find the dining room. They do cook up burgers and fries in a room just off the pressbox during the game, which is a bonus.
The working conditions inside the pressbox aren’t too bad. Nothing special, but not uncomfortable either. Kind of like the park itself. Getting to the clubhouse requires you to exit the pressbox, walk to a stairwell, then through the main stadium lobby, then down another hallway. The clubhouse size is OK when it comes to doing interviews, which saves this place from joining the worst. But it’s nothing great.
10. COMERICA PARK (Detroit) — 13 points
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1. Stadium proximity/access 2
2. Food 2
3. Interview space in visitors’ clubhouse 3
4. Working conditions in pressbox/view 4
5. Postgame access to clubhouse from pressbox 2

I usually view this place as a tremendous opportunity wasted. First off, despite being downtown, it’s next to impossible to get a cab after the game. That means a hike back to the hotel through some less-than-attractive neighborhoods. With a computer. Many media members stay in the suburbs and drive in but have reported problems with difficult parking attendants. I stay in the city itself. The food is mostly fried and overpriced, though there’s some good ice cream to be had if you get it quickly enough. And the dining room is right off the pressbox area, which makes for a pretty good working arrangement. Views from the pressbox are good and the quarters aren’t too cramped. But somehow, despite the being a new park, they’ve managed to make it a postgame expedition to find the clubhouse. You have to walk down a hall, out across a catwalk to an elevator, then down another hall, through a doorway and another hall to find the visitors’ side. It’s too long a hike. Especially for a new ballpark.
9. ROGERS CENTRE (Toronto) — 13 points
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1. Stadium proximity/access 4
2. Food 2
3. Interview space in visitors’ clubhouse 2
4. Working conditions in pressbox/view 3
5. Postgame access to clubhouse from pressbox 2

Getting here is half the fun since you can actually stay at the ballpark’s hotel. There are other places within walking distance as well. If you come by car, you pay to park. Some cab rides can also take a while in traffic. The pressbox food is pretty good, but the team is stingy on the portions. Famous for putting up signs warning people not to take more than one cookie or pudding (most parks don’t limit this). The pressbox is comfortable, but very high up. At night, the setting sun causes a glare around gametime that makes it tough to see your computer screen. The wireless access and cellphone reception is among the worst in baseball despite the fact the team is owned by a telecommunications giant. They also haven’t figured out how to control the temperature in here and when they close the retractable roof after games, all the humidity gets trapped inside and turns it into a sauna. Getting to the clubhouse in this outdated, 1980s-style ballpark requires a hike down a long hallway, a ride on a terribly slow elevator and then a march down a very long basement concourse area. Security staff are not as bad as at Yankee Stadium, but tend to consider themselves as Canada’s frontline to the War on Terror. No, that’s not a joke. Well, it is, but it isn’t.
8. METRODOME (Minneapolis) — 14 points
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1. Stadium proximity/access 2
2. Food 2
3. Interview space in visitors’ clubhouse 2
4. Working conditions in pressbox/view 3
5. Postgame access to clubhouse from pressbox 5
Best part about this place is that one stairwell, located in the pressbox itself, drops you right down in front of the visitors’ clubhouse. Inside that clubhouse, you try not to step on the star pitcher’s toes because it is cramped as can be. The adventure here is also playing “Find the media dining room” because you have to leave the pressbox, walk past the clubhouses and go down a long corridor. There isn’t much reward from the food, though ice cream in the pressbox saves it from being a total loss. It’s a little tight in the pressbox but the view is great. You’re right on top of the fans. Getting out of here after the game isn’t fun, since cabs are few and the area closes down rather quickly. Time for a new park, though the thought of being outdoors in April here is downright scary.
7. THE BALLPARK (Arlington, Tex.) — 15 points
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1. Stadium proximity/access 4
2. Food 3
3. Interview space in visitors’ clubhouse 3
4. Working conditions in pressbox/view 2
5. Postgame access to clubhouse from pressbox 3
If you stay at a hotel just up the street, this place isn’t terrible since you can park for free in the lot here. Stay at another hotel in, say, Dallas, and you have to fight big-time traffic to get here. The pressbox is kept closed and air conditioned because of oppressive heat outside. You hear piped in crowd noise from speakers and it sounds as artificial as it is. Tough to get a feel for the game, especially from your upper deck perch. The field seems a mile away. Getting to the clubhouse involves and elevator ride and then a long walk down a stuffy basement corridor smelling of grease. But it’s not as long a walk as in other places. Food is OK, with a good salad bar, but the club charges separately for desserts, which is a bit odd and leads to unpleasant confrontations with the “cook” charged with policing the dining room.
6. KAUFFMAN STADIUM (Kansas City) — 15 points
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1. Stadium proximity/access 1
2. Food 3
3. Interview space in visitors’ clubhouse 5
4. Working conditions in pressbox/view 2
5. Postgame access to clubhouse from pressbox 4

Really is in the middle of nowhere, which makes for long highway drives (cabs are too expensive and hard to find after the game) to and from downtown. Other than that, it’s not a bad place and one that should only get better with a major remodelling now underway. Food used to be some of the best in the game and still isn’t terrible, but tends to be overrated by writers remembering its heyday. The clubhouse is huge and makes for fairly easy interviews. Getting to the clubhouse also requires going up a small flight of stairs, then down another longer set (skip the slow elevator) and drops you just opposite the clubhouse. Almost as good as in Minnesota. The view from the pressbox is a bit high up and working conditions are a little tight.
5. PROGRESSIVE FIELD (Cleveland) — 16 points
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1. Stadium proximity/access 3
2. Food 4
3. Interview space in visitors’ clubhouse 4
4. Working conditions in pressbox/view 3
5. Postgame access to clubhouse from pressbox 2

It’s in downtown Cleveland, so cabs home can be a little tough to find at times. But you can walk here or cab it from the hotel in fairly little time. The pressbox is a little too high up for my liking and you lose the atmosphere on cold days when the windows have to stay shut. But the food is very good, second only to Boston in my book. This place is lethal for its desserts. What keeps this from a better rating is the long hike to the clubhouse, requiring you to walk down a long hallway, then across a bigger one to a slow elevator or long set of stairs, then down another long basement concouse to get the the clubhouse. Not a pleasant feature. The stadium employees tend to be fairly friendly. There’s also some nearby bars and nightlife near the stadium and they don’t shut down early like in Minnesota.
4. SAFECO FIELD (Seattle) — 18 points
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1. Stadium proximity/access 3
2. Food 3
3. Interview space in visitors’ clubhouse 4
4. Working conditions in pressbox/view 5
5. Postgame access to clubhouse from pressbox 3
As a visiting writer, getting back to my downtown hotel from here could be a hassle. You had to wait a fair bit for all the traffic to clear out and then cabs could take some time. Food also used to be much better, but lately has gotten on the skimpy side — the cookie police live here too. A great pressbox, though, with a view that’s pretty good. Working conditions are spacious, with plenty of TV monitors. Same can also be said for the visitors’ clubhouse. Getting to that clubhouse can be a hassle, as the elevators are run by human operators who don’t respond to the button but merely make routine runs up and down. It’s a fairly long hike to the clubhouses once you get out of the elevator. No real stair access down. Takes too long. But overall, a fairly pleasant experience. Staff here are very friendly, especially at the media entranceway.
3. CAMDEN YARDS (Baltimore) — 20 points
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1. Stadium proximity/access 4
2. Food 4
3. Interview space in visitors’ clubhouse 5
4. Working conditions in pressbox/view 3
5. Postgame access to clubhouse from pressbox 4

I enjoy this place because you can walk here from a bunch of hotels. Cab service after games is spotty, so you are kind of forced to walk. The food used to be the games’ best, but they’ve gotten stingy on the crab cakes, which used to be a daily, unlimited feature. Still, you can order alternatives to the main meal — like burgers and fries. And they put out pizza regularly. Great interview space inside the visitors’ clubhouse and the view in pressbox is superb.
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The downside is, you’re right on top of fans, who lean in and ask dumb questions while you’re working. Some have stolen laptops. A big danger here are the balls fouled straight back. Fox Sports columnist Ken Rosenthal, back when he worked for the Baltimore Sun, infamously had his laptop shattered by a Cal Ripken Jr. foul ball on the same day he’d written that Ripken should consider halting his consecutive games streak for the good of the team. Also, one major design flaw, keeping the pressbox from getting a higher score, is the lack of air conditioning. It turns the pressbox into a sweatbox during the summer months when humidity in Baltimore is oppressive. Overall though, a pretty enjoyable work experience once you get past the idea of sweating off 10 pounds a night. Then again, considering the good food, maybe that’s a bonus.
2. ANGEL STADIUM (Anaheim) — 20 points
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1. Stadium proximity/access 5
2. Food 3
3. Interview space in visitors’ clubhouse 3
4. Working conditions in pressbox/view 4
5. Postgame access to clubhouse from pressbox 5

I’ve always loved coming here, whether it’s the design of the ballpark or the friendly staff who work here. Not much to complain about. Parking is easy and drops you off right in front of the main entrance. You need a car in Orange County because cabs are few and far between. Hotels are very close by. I’ve always liked the food here, though it has slipped in quality of late and the desserts are not nearly as good.
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The open air pressbox overlooks a dining area terrace for club patrons and is low enough to get a real feel for the park’s atmosphere. Access to the clubhouse is as good, maybe slightly better than, in Minnesota — one quick stairwell hop down. The pressbox is roomy, though the working quarters themselves are a bit tight and uncomfortable. The chairs are basic and the countertops are made of cast iron and quite narrow. The clubhouse is decent enough — not overly huge, but you aren’t bumping into people. In all, just a plesant experience without any one serious drawback.
And finally, our number one place to go to work…
1. TROPICANA FIELD (St. Petersburg, Fla.) — 23 points
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1. Stadium proximity/access 5
2. Food 4
3. Interview space in visitors’ clubhouse 5
4. Working conditions in pressbox/view 5
5. Postgame access to clubhouse from pressbox 4

Just like Anaheim, you need a car to get around. If you stay in St. Petersburg, especially at the team hotel, the lovely Renaissance Vinoy, you get a relaxing marina view (photo) and it’s a five-minute ride to the ballpark. You can stay at other hotels and it’s also the same drive.
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Parking is free and easy to get to. The pressbox, to me, is the most underrated in the game. A great view which puts you right on top of the atmosphere without fans leaning over to grab things or talk to you. Plenty of room inside, with ample snacks available during the game. The food has always been quite good and the desserts help you put on lots of weight. Dining room is right across a hall from the pressbox.
Getting to the large-sized clubhouse requires going down one stairwell and a short hike up a basement concourse. Just like Angel Stadium, there’s no real drawback to this place. And all games get played indoors, in comfortable temperatures, with no fear of rain delays. Aside from the ugliness of the stadium itself, this really is a great place to come to work, with wonderful team employees helping make it even more pleasant.
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